READ BEFORE BUYING - Bearded Dragon Breeders
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Bearded dragons are unique and amazing pets. Which is why you're curious about owning one. You’ve done your homework, and thoroughly researched how to care for one. And you closely examined the monthly finances required to care for one.
You made the decision on either buying a brilliantly colored morph or adopting a rescue beardie. And you've also determined whether or not you are going to start with a juvenile or an adult. Now, where to get one? Many new reptile owners may think big box pet stores are the best best place to start. And although they may have the bearded dragons you're looking for, there are better alternatives. Finding reputable bearded dragon breeders will provide the healthiest pet. But, there are specific questions you need to ask these bearded dragon breeders before forking over a few hundred dollars.
Never Buy a Bearded Dragon From These Locations
First off – try to stay away from the large commercial chains such as Petco and PetSmart. They often buy from very large operations with very low standards for husbandry and genetics. Some pet store chains purchase in bulk from places that raise their animals in concentration camp conditions, such as that documented by a PETA undercover journalist in 2013. To be fair, some improvements have been made in these practices, but why take a chance.
Also, chain pet stores are typically staffed by part-time employees, and usually have a high turnover. Because of this, it is hard to get qualified assistance from your average store employee. Someone who works with puppies and kittens exclusively may not be able to answer your bearded dragon questions because they have not been thoroughly trained in the care of the large variety of species that your average pet store carries.
When a newbie is buying a pet, they often want some expert advice and assume that the employee knows what they are talking about. This may not be true. Although the employee may be happy to tell you that sand is a wonderful substrate for your new pet (because they sell sand in handy 5 lb. bags) without having a clue that this material will cause impaction and kill your pet in under 6 months. These part-time employees may mean well. But they are not trained to educate the public on proper bearded dragon husbandry. So unless you know the personnel and practices of your local pet store really, really well, try to find a breeder instead.
But finding a trustworthy bearded dragon breeder isn't easy, and will require som research and homework. You can start by researching breeders who have an online presence. Read all reviews about them first, and then call them and talk with them if you can’t drive to the location.
How to Identify a Good Bearded Dragon Breeder
If the breeder is friendly, knowledgeable and fairly easy to get ahold of (and returns email or voice mails promptly) then you are off to a good start. This may be the most important step in the whole procedure and is more likely to increase your odds of getting a fine animal than sticking only with the breeders closest to you. Use your intuition. If something seems off about your interactions, then move on.
Online Bearded Dragon Breeders
The most obvious place to find a reputable bearded dragon breeder is online. It may seem odd to ship a live creature. But good breeders know how to ship their animals properly and safely, so don’t worry too much about shipment logistics.
Breeders who ship often like A-1 Dragons, Dachiu Dragons and Carolina Classic Dragons seem to get fairly consistent and positive reviews, so definitely consider long distance options. For instance, Dachiu has a reputation for excellent lifelong customer phone support (for the life of the lizard, silly, not you!). Shipping will cost about $50 (depending on size of dragon and shipping distance) so if time and travel costs are an issue for you it may be well worth it.
Really good internet savvy breeders display stunning photos of spectacular color morphs with spectacular price tags, ranging from $300 to $500. Just know that if you are buyinng from a distant breeder, then you may not get a chance to see your actual pet in advance. If you are placed on a waiting list, some breeders may ask you to pay the full price up front and then ask you to wait several weeks for your unseen pet to arrive at your home (this is the downside of internet sales).
Finding a Local Bearded Dragon Breeder
Choosing a local breeder allows you to pick out your pet, see the operation firsthand, and make a new friend in the beardie business. Another benefit for a local purchase is that your breeder should be well informed on proper bearded dragon care. Which means he or she may become an excellent resource over the years.
When researching local breeders within driving distance, a good place to look are reptile forums such as ‘Fauna Classifieds’. Most breeders that use this site as an outlet will post pictures and prices. An email inquiry to these folks is fine but absolutely follow up with a phone call. Calling any breeder (not just emailing) is a good idea because some breeders are friendly and helpful with newbies and some are abrupt and impatient. Stick with the nice ones.
Ask local breeders within driving distance if you can come out to see their operation. A reputable breeder will be happy to show you their set up and their animals. Many will ask that visitors come on designated days so they don’t have walk-ins disrupting their daily or weekly chores, but that is a reasonable requirement and does not mean they have something to hide.
Be Cautious with these Buzz Words
Chatting up breeders is a great strategy, but it’s OK to be selective. For instance, beware of breeders that advertise beardies with the terms ‘fancy’ or pygmy’ in the name. There is no such thing, and advertisements that include these terms often indicate poor genetics and husbandry, such as that seen in the large commercial farms mentioned above. Just scratch them off of your list and move on.
Cost of a Bearded Dragon
Or, if all else fails, you can buy a plain jane dragon for $50 from a pet store chain, cross your fingers and pray to the beardie gods. Considering the cost of the bearded dragon habitat, why not consider the animal itself to be a worthy investment? Get over your money issues, and just pay a fair price for a superior bearded dragon. Get the best one that you can locate either nearby or shipped by an outstanding breeder. If money is an issue, then you should reconsider buying a bearded dragon all together, considering they need to be fed daily and should have routine check-ups with a qualified veterinarian.
Consider Reptile Shows
Another avenue for beardie acquisition is a reptile show. These are super fun and an informative way to find your first beardie (or your second or third).
You already have your beardie abode set up at home and ready for its new occupant. You’ve arrived at the show and you have located the breeders of the species you are interested in. The best strategy for working a reptile show to your advantage is to get there early and give yourself plenty of time.
You will probably find that the prices for the animals offered are less than those you see on websites or in pet stores. This is great, but don’t be seduced into grabbing up the first good deal you find. Cruise the whole show and speak to each and every beardie breeder. If the show is extremely well attended, the breeder may be too busy to speak with you in depth for a long period of time. Be patient and go speak with someone else for a bit. By chatting up all of the vendors, you will get a sense of who is willing to mentor the new buyer a little bit and who is simply not interested in hand-holding.
One disadvantage of shows and expos is that when it’s done, the vendors pack up and go home. If you feel strongly that you will need some mentoring, speak with the breeder until you are sure you are both on the same page regarding post-purchase assistance. Ask for a business card, or write down their email.
Asking good questions can go a long way. But if you're new and curious, you may not know the best questions to ask. So here are common questions that most people ask a vendor:
- how long they have been breeding this species?
- how many young do they produce yearly?
- what type of diets have these dragons been fed?
- Trick question - Do you feed them dubia roaches or mealworms? (a good bearded dragon breeder will not feed a bearded dragon mealworms)
Asking these questions will get a new bearded dragon owner off to a good start. But building a relationship with the bearded dragon breeder will offer the biggest return for anyone trying to be a caring owner. Great dialogue, and finding out how the vendor got into the bearded dragon world are great ice-breaker. This will typically get the breeders talking about their favorite subject, themselves, in a friendly and non-commercial way. They often break away from their usual pitches and get really authentic with the potential buyer in a way that can provide a world of rich information about their operation. If this dialogue is interrupted, I use that as my exit cue and either come back later with the meatier questions or cross that person off of my list, as I deem fit.
How to Identify a Healthy Bearded Dragon
If a vendor has made a positive impression on you, then ask to be able to handle a couple of the animals for sale.
- Are they friendly?
- well nourished with a gleaming appearance?
- are their eyes clear or foggy?
- Do they have all of their little toes?
You needn’t go overboard with the handling, as at a busy show this can stress out both the animal and the vendor. Still, this little bearded dragon may be with you for many years (with any luck), and you deserve a tiny bit of a meet and greet. If you really are sold on a particular guy/gal, it’s time to ask the vendor about insurance or guarantees and follow-up with customer care. This may sound like a lot of work, but it can be really informative and entertaining. After all, isn’t that part of the reason you chose to attend a show?